In the grand scheme of Big Life Problems, everything is fine. Let’s start with that. Because I am about to launch into a carnival of bitchery and I KNOW someone will want to bright-side it somehow or say it could definitely be worse, and you know how I feel about Hardship Olympics. So. Is my family okay; is anything on fire? Yes, and no. But am I going to complain anyway? You betcha.
Not in the mood for such? That’s fine. Catch you next time when I’m back to being funny, I guess.
Where to begin, where to begin? I think let’s start with the timeline/history of my involvement with this local dog rescue (hereafter referred to as LDR for short). That makes sense, and will be necessary background for the forthcoming bitchery. (This would be a good time to go grab your popcorn.)
We first encountered LDR about fourteen years ago, when we started looking for a family dog. And ultimately they brought Licorice into our lives, so I will forever love them for that. Licorice was a damn good dog.
Fast forward many years; a foster from the rescue was looking for a wagon to borrow in 2020, to use to transport a dog with cerebellar hypoplasia. (I didn’t know what that was, at the time, but later we fostered Barkley so I definitely view this as a full-circle kind of deal.) I contacted the person looking, offered up our wagon, and mentioned that we had adopted from LDR and Licorice was the best dog ever so I was happy to help. This particular volunteer immediately asked me if I wanted to become a foster, but at the time we still had both Duncan and Licorice, so I told her “someday, but not yet” and she borrowed my wagon and that was that.
A little under a year later, the wagon-borrower (who I was now connected with on Facebook, where I was mostly posting about sewing masks for much of the latter half of 2020) asked me if I might be willing to sew some bandanas for LDR to sell as a fundraiser, and I said of course. I don’t know how many I made, but something in the hundreds. A LOT of bandanas. Just because I wanted to support their organization.
About a year after that, Duncan died. We took a few months and then I went to my contact at LDR and told her I was ready to start fostering. Just a week later, Goose appeared, and thus began my immersion in the wide world of fostering.
Licorice died, and we decided to keep Goose. Next came Rosie, then Grok, then Barkley (who was our longest foster and a difficult placement, but I am friends with his new mom and he is now living the LIFE), followed by the 14-year-old deaf/blind teacup poodle whose owner accused LDR of stealing her dog (after she’d been to the shelter twice in one week and was not claimed during her hold time the second time), and who I spent most of our time together carrying around in a sling, then the world’s bounciest puppy, Mitzi, and finally, Turnip the Terrible, who—as you know—we have since adopted. (Her new nickname is Baby Crackhead, but that’s neither here nor there as pertains to this story.)
If you’re keeping count, over about 18 months, we cared for 7 foster dogs. Most of whom were simply presented to me, and a couple of whom I selected from the shelter, myself.
During that time, I also:
* helped with fundraising events
* recruited a couple of new foster homes
* groomed every dog I fostered, sometimes more than once (saving the rescue big $$$)
* became a meet-n-greet coordinator basically without any formal training, because I was supposed to be trained when everything hit the fan in Arizona and I had to go out there for two weeks to help take care of my folks
* joined the website team (“team” = one other person) to maintain adoption listings
* started writing dog bios and adoption announcement blurbs, plus other copy as needed
I was doing a LOT. And let me be perfectly clear: I LOVED IT. I have a pretty flexible schedule and not everyone has the time to do all this stuff, but I do, and I love it, so I was more than happy to pitch in wherever I was needed.
You may have noticed that the previous paragraph is in the past tense. *insert sad trombone here*
After we decided to adopt Turnip, I was asked by several folks at LDR if that meant I wouldn’t foster anymore. “Nah,” I said. “I’m hooked. I think we can handle one more dog. I’ll keep going.”
Most of LDR’s fosters are pulled from the local county shelter, and some are owner surrenders. I’ve had a mix, in the past. At some point, our foster coordinator sent me a listing for a scruffy-looking dog in a different shelter—one over an hour away, as it turns out. She was listed as a 1-year-old, 15-pound terrier mix.
“My friend who works there says this is the sweetest pup and she’s really decompensating at the shelter because she’s scared of all the noise.” You may recall that I am allergic to fur dogs. Some terriers have hair, and some terriers have fur. I squinted at the picture.
“I don’t think that’s a hair dog,” I sent back. “I mean, I’m happy to take her if she is, but I’m not driving all that way unless we’re sure. Ask your friend?”
A day later I received a series of screen captures of their text conversation: yes, definitely hair, really just the absolute sweetest and most perfect dog, you have to get her out of here, please?? I said okay, and the appropriate rescue people took care of the necessary paperwork.
And so… off I went to retrieve Foster Number 8. (Spoiler alert: please review the title of this post.)
I made the ~90 minute drive to this other shelter. Here let me tell you that when we pull dogs from our local shelter, I will come in and say I’m from LDR, I’m here to see [whatever dog], and they will either let me go straight to their pen or bring the dog out to the yard for me so we can spend a little time together. I had assumed the same would happen here. But as soon as I walked in and introduced myself and said I was from LDR, everyone behind the desk leapt up, super excited, and the next thing I knew they were literally shoving this dog into my arms and wishing me luck.
The first thing that registered: No way was this dog 15 pounds. 20, maybe. Or more. And clearly underweight for her frame size. MUCH larger than anticipated.
The second thing that registered: Definitely not a hair dog. She is indeed a very Border terrier-looking thing (and pure Border terriers have non-shedding wire coats, that’s true) and I guess the volunteer in question didn’t bother to, you know, SLIDE A HAND DOWN THIS DOG (so time consuming!) to see if she sheds, but boy howdy, she sheds. A LOT. I don’t know what she’s mixed with but it’s something with a LOT of fur and dander.
The third thing that registered: She was terrified. TERRIFIED. Like, just this side of feral terrified.
If I was a smarter person, despite the drive I’d just made, I would’ve stopped right there and said, “Whoops hey, hold up, I can’t take this dog. I’m allergic and also I can already see she needs a very experienced handler, which I am not.” That’s what I should’ve done. But I didn’t, because I’m a dumbass. (Also because: the foster coordinator seemed so invested in this particular dog, and I was already there, and I figured that either she truly was a “perfect dog” and I could deal for a week or so and she’d get adopted, or I could pass her to another foster home.
I took her outside and walked around the shelter for a while trying to get her to go potty before we got back in the car to go home. What she did: bucked against the leash, jumped up on me repeatedly, rolled in the grass. What she didn’t do: potty.
After about ten minutes I decided maybe she’d gone when they got her from her pen (lots of dogs at the shelter will relieve themselves the second they’re let out, because they don’t want to mess their living space). I buckled her into the car and we began the long drive home. She cried the entire way.
This is already so many words and only half the story, plus the next part is… gross. But over the next eight hours:
1) Goose hid. I eventually went looking for her.
2) Turnip danced around trying to decide if she wanted to engage this new dog or not, because INTRIGUING but also VERY SCARY.
3) The new dog (TND) wandered around my house crying, except for when…
4) … she was finding random objects to chew up, or…
5) … every time I went to take her outside, when she would simply pancake to the floor in fear, so I would have to heft her up, carry her out across the porch, down the stairs, and into the dog run…
6) … where she would do everything EXCEPT potty, including but not limited to: digging holes, eating leaves, and running away from me any time I wanted to take her back in.
We did this for eight hours. I took her out on a leash, I took her out not on a leash. Monkey and I took her for a walk. Every 15 minutes or so, out we went, so I had to pick her up, and at about the hour mark my arms started to welt up with hives. I took extra allergy meds and wiped my (suddenly constantly-running) nose every ten seconds. Out again. Back inside again. For. Eight. Hours.
After eight hours, TND darted into a corner and peed what appeared to be a gallon of piss onto the carpet mat by the door. While I was attempting to sop all that up, she darted into another corner and pooped. I cleaned that up while she continued wandering around, crying.
By this time, I was messaging with one of our very experienced fosters, asking for tips. Every foster I’ve ever had has messed in the house; that’s to be expected. They’re discombobulated, and even if they were once potty trained, it can take a while to figure out what’s what. But I’ve never had a dog who was obviously withholding. Most of the tips given to me were things I’d tried, and the person I was talking to seemed annoyed with my questions. I also pointed out that I was allergic AND I had to handle her a lot so it was particularly bad, and basically got “sucks to be you” in response. I sent a message to the foster coordinator that night to say that I didn’t think I was going to be able to keep TND. No response.
We repeated the outside-every-15-minutes thing until bedtime, and TND, again, never pottied. I crated her for the night around 10:00, and she proceeded to howl and bark the entire night. This is not an exaggeration; save for a few 15-minute-ish intervals, she screamed all. night. long. So of course I didn’t sleep.
I gave up around 6:00 and went to let her out. Whereupon I discovered that she had torn up everything in the crate (foam pad, blanket, pee pad), peed on everything, and rolled in it.
I’m a strong independent woman (did I mention Otto was out of town during this?), so naturally I… started sobbing in exhaustion and frustration and took her outside. Where she did everything but potty. Still crying, I brought her back inside, stuck her in the tub, and gave her a bath she very much did not want. I then towel dried her and set to work cleaning her crate again. Once that was all done, I crated her so that I could take a quick shower.
10 minutes later, I emerged from the shower to find that this freshly bathed dog had not only pooped in the crate and created an impressive Jackson Pollock, in her flailing around she had dislodged the tray at the bottom of the crate AND moved the crate halfway across my office. Which meant that the poop-art was all over her, the crate, and my floor.
Not gonna lie, I a little bit lost my mind at that point.
I woke up Monkey to handle the dogs outside while I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. Then I cleaned up TND. I had somewhere to be that morning, so eventually I put her in a (different, one-piece) crate and told Monkey to just leave her there until I got back. And I messaged the foster coordinator and gave a brief summary, again updating on my allergy situation as well, and said she needed to be moved ASAP.
“Well no one’s open so you’re going to have to wait.”
It was at this point that I got just plain angry. I have quite literally never said no to this organization. I drove three hours round trip for a dog that was not at all what I was told and she was not only more than I felt like I could handle, behaviorally, but she was literally making me sick.
“I’m headed out for a few hours but if you don’t find a placement for her by tonight I will drive her back to the shelter in the morning because I’m not keeping her.”
An ultimatum? Yes. A tantrum? Possibly. I’m no good on no sleep, and I’m double plus un-good when I feel like I’ve been taken advantage of. And that’s how I felt.
Radio silence ensued for a while. Eventually (we have an online chat group) someone said, “Well, you can’t take her back to [original county] because rescue transfer isn’t an adoption, so you can’t do a return. And you’re not a resident there, so you can’t do an owner surrender, either.”
I reread this message several times. I knew a conversation was going on in a different chat, and this was what they decided to share with me? Cool cool cool. “Okay,” I responded, “that’s fine. If you don’t find her somewhere by tonight, I will take her to [local shelter] in the morning.”
Again, silence for quite a while. Then: “Well [local shelter] is full and they’re scheduling owner surrenders out several weeks. Also it could really damage LDR’s relationship with them if you brought one of our dogs there.”
Again, I reread several times. I have very low blood pressure naturally but this was one of those “I read it while I could feel my heartbeat pounding in my eye” kinds of moments. “Okay,” I typed. “So what you’re telling me is that I cannot take her back to [original shelter] because I’m not a resident there, and I cannot take her to [local shelter] because they won’t take her. And I’ve told you that I drove three hours in good faith to get this dog that is nothing I was told she was, who is now making me physically ill, who is frightening my dogs, who is just this side of feral, and I cannot keep her, and you do not have a solution for me?”
Eventually the foster coordinator messaged me separately to say I could take TND out to the farm of the experienced foster I’d been consulting the day before. I coordinated with that person (who was clearly SUPER PISSED at me), drove another 90 minutes round trip to offload her, and then The Saga Of My Shortlived Eighth Foster was over.
The foster coordinator never apologized for passing along faulty info about the dog. Or checked in to see if I was okay after all that (hint: I was not okay). In fact, no one talked to me at all! About anything! Save for one person who’d been aware of this situation (who LDR has been consistently shitty to for the entire time I’ve been there) and reached out to check on me and say they thought the way it was handled was awful, everyone in the administration chat group stopped talking to me entirely. And the person who’d taken TND mostly talked about what a SWEET and WONDERFUL and EASY dog TND was. At least, that was the schtick for the first week or so. Then it changed to “I don’t understand why TND isn’t getting adoption applications!” Personally, I hope that dog NEVER gets adopted, and that person has to keep her. Which should be fine since she’s SOOOOOOO GREAT, right? (Yes, yes. I’m going to hell. I know!)
I did check her adoption listing at one point, and noted that her age had been changed to make her much younger. I have no idea if that came from the LDR vet or if someone’s trying to hedge bets and make her lack of housetraining more palatable or what.
This all went down on a weekend. I stayed out of the group chats (though I could see from constant notifications that discussion was lively, it was just like I’d ceased to exist) and gave myself a few days to cool off. I then contacted the head of the rescue, who is someone I’ve come to feel is… if not a friend, certainly more than an acquaintance. She hadn’t said anything, either, but by Wednesday after this happened, I reached out and asked if we could schedule a time to meet. We agreed upon a time the following Monday.
Before I headed to our meeting, I packed up all the supplies I’ve accumulated over the last 18 months in fostering with LDR and put them in my car. Depending on how the meeting went, I wanted to be able to give it all back right then if I decided I couldn’t continue on with this organization.
The meeting was cordial, and I felt like my concerns were heard. My goals were twofold: First, to ask if management would be open to reconfiguring our “network of foster homes” such that we have a couple “emergency backup” homes available for when a dog needs to be moved immediately (this means fewer dogs saved overall, but a more supportive/less open to liability structure), and second, to express that aside from our infrastructure being unable to handle a situation like this, the way it WAS handled was rude and deeply upsetting. I expressly stated that by any measure I am a model volunteer who never says no, who does a ton of work for this organization, who has handled PLENTY of “difficult” dogs and isn’t just a whiny quitter, and that I was set up to fail and then treated like I was the asshole, and that’s not a good strategy to keep people like me wanting to work there. “I’m trying to figure out if there’s a way back from this for me or if I just need to leave,” I said.
On the first concern, there was a lot of hedging. It’s a non-trivial matter, committing to having willing fosters who just wait for emergencies, and I get that. I had a few ideas and asked if she would be willing to let me explore them and see if we could come up with a plan, and she was happy to let me do that. Okay.
On the second concern, we did have to hash through “well you shouldn’t have taken her in the first place” (which is true and that was my mistake) and “everyone is overextended” and such, but she did say she’d reach out to the foster coordinator (who, in my opinion, at the very least owes me an apology) and also the person who ended up taking TND. “I think we can come back from this, I really do!” she said. “Everyone just needs to talk it out.”
I agreed to stay on, though I did say I thought I’d take a break from fostering for a bit. She said that sounded great.
This meeting happened one week after I offloaded TND. At that point I still hadn’t heard from the people who were shitty to me about it. I decided to give it another week; I wanted to see if the president would follow through and if the people in question would come to me.
The day after the meeting, I felt a little unwell.
The day after that, which happened to be the twenty-EIGHTH (see what I did there), I was making a big-batch dinner because it was my turn to feed some friends on a meal train. I got the cooking done—including a giant kale salad I made in the morning, and had a bowl of for lunch—but by the time Otto got home from work, I was decidedly unwell. He made worried eyebrows at me. “Want me to drop this off for you?” he asked. I thanked him profusely.
I had a Zoom meeting that evening, and I joined from my bed, camera off, figuring I could do whatever I needed to do. And I did. Sort of. For about half an hour. Then I had to leave the Zoom. Abruptly.
Here is the thing you need to know about me and any kind of illness that makes me barf: Once I start, I will never stop. Save for childhood, I think, every single time I’ve gotten sick with something that includes vomiting, it will also include a hospital visit. This was no exception, so as I did my best impression of The Exorcist, Otto whisked me to the ER, where a toddler and I spent a couple of hours taking turns yakking into emesis bags in the waiting room. (Hey, it’s nice to make new friends with similar interests, right?)
The person who processed me for intake actually went and got me some Zofran. “This will help with the nausea until they get you triaged and taken back. Just let it dissolve under your tongue.” I popped it under my tongue. And threw it up less than 60 seconds later.
Things I did while waiting in the ER: cried, barfed a lot, had Otto wheel me to the bathroom on the couple of occasions I had enough time to do so, told Otto I wanted to die, told Otto OMG WHAT IF THE DINNER I MADE WAS POISONED, I ATE THE SALAD FOR LUNCH, OMG OMG OMG THIS IS BECAUSE MY FRIEND’S HUSBAND IS RECOVERING FROM A HEART ATTACK WHAT IF I POISON THEM ALL. (Dinner was not poisoned, thankfully.)
I don’t know how long everything took, because by the time they took me back I was super dehydrated, running a high fever, and maybe also hallucinating a little. They’d taken my blood in triage, so by the time they took me to a room, someone swooped in to announce that I had pancreatitis. Then they took more blood and scheduled me for some more tests. I asked my (rather dour) nurse between heaves what causes pancreatitis, and he gave me SUCH A LOOK and said, “Heavy drinking.”
I think I may have actually laughed. “I barely drink,” I said, thinking he was trying to be funny.
“Uh huh,” he said, before exiting the room.
I asked Otto if I’d been imagining that this nurse clearly thinks I’m a closet alcoholic—I’ve been known to be a little oversensitive in the past—and Otto confirmed that no, I was not imagining, that nurse was definitely a dick. But LO my second set of bloodwork came back, and this one included a squeaky-clean tox screen, at which point the nurse suddenly started being a lot nicer to me! Go figure! [Side note: Should I report this nurse? If yes, to whom? Later a much nicer nurse listened to me recount this story and said, “Welllllll to be fair, most people who come into the ER with intractable vomiting are in withdrawal, but… that’s still not okay.”] But even then I kept asking for water or ice, anything, and he said “You can’t have anything until after your scans” but then a doctor came in and I said “Pleeeeease can I have some ice chips, the nurse said I can’t have them” and the doctor was like “That’s ridiculous, I’ll get you some ice” and he did. Bless him. That was the best ice I ever ate.
Anyhoo, they loaded me up with IV fluids, and someone came and did an ultrasound that took FOREVER and involved a lot of pressing on my (already ouchy) stomach, and after that they wheeled me down to CT for scans, and after THAT they said “Maybe not pancreatitis. We’re not sure. LOL IDK! We’re admitting you.” Then I spent a few fun-filled days dragging an IV pole back and forth to the bathroom with me, and managing to doze off just minutes before someone would inevitably barge in and say “How’re you feeling?” (Well, SUSAN, it’s 3:00 am and I’m in the fucking hospital and you just woke me up to take my blood, how do YOU think I’m doing?)
They never did figure out exactly what happened, but they got me to stop vomiting and then they got my fever down and they put me on a ton of meds and eventually I was like “Okay cool, can I please go home so I can actually sleep?”
I came home about a week ago, and yesterday was the first day that I think I was just tired and not still sick. So. Progress! Also, I lost 10 pounds. So. Y’know. #brightsiding
In all that time, I heard nothing from the people who were supposedly going to reach out to me. (And we’re all connected on FB, and I did post that I was in the hospital. I know that FB is finicky about which posts it shows to who and when, but this is a large enough group that I find it improbable that no one saw it.) Finally when it had been a week since I’d talked to the head of LDR, and I’d heard nothing, I gave the other web person a heads up that I was going to resign. I suspect they contacted the president in a panic, because shortly thereafter I got a “Hey, how’s your week been? I think I saw you were in the hospital…?” message from the president.
Pro tip: “I think I saw you were in the hospital” is never the right thing to say to someone who’s been ill enough to be in the hospital. Maybe lie and say you JUST found out, but the human societal contract suggests the right way to handle this interaction is to express some concern, not act like you’re wondering if I have a favorite color. It was just… to me, it was confirmation that this organization is dysfunctional in a way that is not going to work for me. We don’t all have to be besties, but you do actually have to follow through in a timely manner when you say you’ll do something, and maybe just pretend to give a shit about the volunteers.
So I messaged back and said I was home now, and it’d been a week since we met and I’d never heard from the folks who were supposed to reach out, so I would be dropping off my supplies as soon as I was well enough. Then I removed myself from all the LDR channels.
Fifteen minutes later the foster coordinator messaged me “Hey, I’ve been meaning to reach out.”
No. Too little, too late.
“I’ve decided to take a step back from LDR,” I replied.
Then the president messaged me a few minutes later to say “Oh, you told [foster coordinator] that you’re stepping back?”
To which I replied, “That’s what I meant when I said I’d drop off my supplies. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.”
No one ever apologized. I am heartbroken, honestly, because I have loved my time and involvement there, and this organization is now responsible for three of the four dogs our family has owned, and I really wanted them to be better than this. But (this may shock you!) it turns out that sometimes people who are good with dogs aren’t so great with people.
When I was a kid and would run into issues with other kids, my mother had a super charming habit of always letting me know it was absolutely my fault (no matter what it was) and also that my standards were “impossibly high” and if I expected people to treat me “so well” I would “always be disappointed.”
It took me a lot of years and a lot of therapy to understand that it’s perfectly healthy to have boundaries, and to have expectations of how other people treat you. Am I always disappointed? Not always. Sometimes, for sure. I’m definitely disappointed about this situation with the rescue. But also I would rather be disappointed than taken advantage of or abused, and when I finally figured this out, just a few years ago, I stopped letting people who make me feel bad or unappreciated stay in my life. I cannot tell you how freeing it is.
Addendum: The other web person with LDR? They treat them badly, as I mentioned, so I made sure to do two things before I left. First, I apologized for having accepted at face value things I’d heard about them, because that was wrong of me (and believe it or not, this novel is abbreviated and I left out a lot, including finding out a lot of history wherein LDR has done similar things to others, and that a couple of things I’d been told about this other person were just wrong). Second, I told them (this person is quite young) that they should strive to be where they are valued. Life is too short to let people be shitty to you. (I have since heard that the president reached out to them to thank them for all their work, and I know this because they messaged me and said DID YOU TELL HER TO DO THAT and I said NOPE I JUST TOLD HER PEOPLE ARE SHITTY TO YOU AND I’M LEAVING AND IF THEY DON’T GET IT TOGETHER NO ONE WILL BE RUNNING THE WEBSITE.) So that’s hopefully a step in the right direction for them, anyway.
I’m still exhausted and wobbly, but on the road to recovery. I’m going to take a break from fostering for a bit (before even looking into other local rescues) to focus on some training with Turnip, who is truly living up to the “Terrible” in her name and then cocks her head and I SWEAR conjures up the “I JUST A BABY!” TikTok audio every time you call her on her shit. Both dogs lost their ever-lovin’ minds when I came back from the hospital, and have greatly enjoyed our week-long bed party, since. So it hasn’t all been terrible.
Tl;dr: Boundaries good. Sickness bad. And the number eight is on notice.